Why Did Bill Murray Keep Going Back in Groundhog Day?

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website. This post contains spoilers.

Almost everyone loves the movies, and along with viewing our personal favorites and other movies, most of us enjoy discussing the subjects and contents of films. Opinions and tastes, of course, vary. But almost everyone I know loves, or at least likes, Bill Murray's best film, Groundhog Day.

In the film, Murray plays Phil Connors, an obnoxious, self-centered TV weatherman. Phil wakes up one day and realizes it's actually the same day as it was yesterday -and this occurs over and over and over... Finally, Phil "evolves" and finds his true love (his colleague Rita, played by Andie MacDowell) and his true identity and a "new day" is finally allowed to dawn.

The film is actually a great movie version of The Twilight Zone. The great thing about Groundhog Day (or any other great movie) is that it is endlessly rewatchable (a bit of irony there). Last Groundhog Day, February 2nd, one cable channel played Groundhog Day over and over, for the entire day. Nice gag. Groundhog Day also makes for great discussions, and numerous theories about the movie and its meaning have been put forth.

Is it karma? What goes around comes around? Is it a commentary on man's true nature? His true goodness -reflected by kindness, understanding, and warmth? Some Buddhists have adopted the film as a modern symbol of their religion. One keeps "coming back" until they finally evolve into a "perfect state," at which time the endless "coming back" ceases. All valid and very metaphysical theories.

But why was poor Phil stuck in the "endless" time loop in the first place? This is one thing that the film leaves nebulous and unclear. In one sense, it is "hell," i.e. a world of endless repetition, with no randomness, no unpredictability. But in another sense, this is the situation we all want and need: endless chances to fix and correct our mistakes, and then to understand why they were wrong. In the film, when Phil finally straightens out what he's done wrong, the "endless" loop stops.

But again, why the punishment? After all, Phil is undeniably a jerk, but hey, he never murdered anyone. He's not a rapist. He didn't torture any small animals. Why Phil? Okay, here's the answer.

The second draft of Groundhog Day says, actually, it was caused by Phil's scorned ex-girlfriend Stephanie. The second draft of Groundhog Day is pretty close to what we all see in the film. There is a bit more of Phil in the studio at the beginning, but nothing major. But also in the second draft, Stephanie, Phil's ex-girlfriend, puts a curse on him. Literally, she opens a book of magic spells and does a little ritual that causes him to get stuck in time.

Near the beginning of this script, we meet Phil's girlfriend, Stephanie, who Phil coldly and unceremoniously dumps. Later, as Phil is going to bed in Punxsutawney, we see Stephanie in her room, using Phil's business cards and broken watch (conveniently set at 5:59) to perform a magic spell from a book titled 101 Curses, Spells, and Enchantments You Can Do At Home. This sets the theme of Groundhog Day in motion. There is no "higher purpose" given, just an angry, embittered ex-girlfriend with a little book.

Excerpt from the second Groundhog Day script: Stephanie: Are you saying that our relationship was a waste of time? Phil: Our relationship? We went out a total of four times, and only once did anything happen. It was fun, but I don't see that as a big commitment. Stephanie (closing in again): I had our charts done. My astrologer says we're extremely compatible. There may even be some past lives involved here.

For whatever reason, the director, the writer, or whoever, made the decision to completely excise any mention of Stephanie and her vindictive curse. I guess they just felt it was unnecessary to the movie or that it "slowed down the action" or that it made Phil too sympathetic, or some such Hollywood reason. Well, maybe they were right.

Groundhog Day is Bill Murray's (who is a great actor with a great body of film work to his credit) finest and most memorable film. By the way, I never liked Andie MacDowell as an actress. She seems like a very nice lady, but  just never liked her on screen. But in Groundhog Day she puts in a very likeable performance. Oh, and that's not the only mystery that's solved here.

The screenplay also specifies that Phil will spend the next 10,000 years (Holy cow!) trapped in the time loop. It also has a more definite answer as to why he comes out of it. It was apparently the kiss with Rita at the end of the film that broke the spell, much like a fairy tale. Even in the final filmed version, you can hear a tinkly magic sound as Phil and Rita lock lips.

Oh yes, one last note on Groundhog Day. My friend Kenny had a bit part in the film. I asked him what Bill Murray was like to work with. "Oh, he wasn't that friendly, but he got nicer as the film went along."

"Just like in the film, " I said.

"Yeah," he said (as if it had just dawned on him), "Just like the film."

 

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I would have liked to have seen more scenes with the groundhog driving or at least the groundhog giving mouth to mouth to the old guy.
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When it came out, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how long he was stuck. I think we eventually arrived at a consensus of 7-8 years.
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I was honestly just talking about how I wanted to write a paper on this movie because its so intriguing. I'm glad they removed the part about Stephanie from the film, it sort of kills all the wonder and philosophy of the idea by making a simple and straight forward explanation, and who wants that? It's crazy to me how a movie that is essentially a comedy can be so intriguing and inspiring on so many other levels, and when it comes down to it I'm not sure it's a comedy at all, despite it being extremely funny. It's also interesting to compare it to modern movies which rarely seem to be successful in combining so many themes and ideas and also being able to capture and keep the attention of such a wide variety of audience. Man, what a good movie.
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Regarding how Bill Murray was to work with, I recall reading back in the day that Richard Dreyfuss couldn't stand him when working on "What About Bob?" If you ever watch that movie, most of the annoyance/irritation, etc... displayed by Dreyfuss wasn't an act. Puts the movie in a whole different light!
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